Spurs win by testing Heat's willpower


SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs are willing to go the extra mile to beat the Miami Heat -- almost literally.

Data tracking by SportVU showed Spurs players covered 17.6 miles on the court in Game 4, compared with 16.7 miles by the Heat. It's indicative that the Spurs are moving their bodies in addition to moving the ball (the Spurs made 106 more passes in the game than the Heat did). Game 3 featured the exact same discrepancies: .9 more in miles and 106 more passes for the Spurs than the Heat.

The Spurs are testing the Heat's willpower, preying on the Heat's physical and mental fatigue. The Heat have played 86 playoff games in the past four seasons. With at least one game left in these NBA Finals, the Heat have already eclipsed the 85 games played by the last team to reach four consecutive Finals, the 1984-87 Boston Celtics, thanks in part to the expansion of the first round to a best-of-seven format.

When the Spurs make that one extra pass to the open man on the weak side, you can see the Heat say a collective "No mas" and simply fail to make the last rotation to challenge the shot. More than half of the Spurs' field goal attempts in Game 4 were uncontested, according to SportVU.

This is about Miami's defensive struggles as much as San Antonio's offensive efficiency. When that YouTube clip of a perfectly executed Spurs possession made the rounds after Game 3, people marveled at every Spurs player touching the ball, Boris Diaw setting a screen for Patty Mills, Mills finding a cutting Manu Ginobili for a layup. No one discussed the Heat's fundamental failures of not cutting off the baseline on Mills' drive, not bumping Ginobili as he slashed to the hoop and not challenging Ginobili's shot at the rim.

The Heat have been there for the taking. Their legs are weary, their depth depleted. It's just that no other team had the right mix of talent, patience and basketball savvy to exploit it until the Spurs came along.

"When you exert that much energy versus a team like this," LeBron James said, "who continues to move, who continues to get into their sets, continue to use the 24 seconds and move the ball, and move the ball, and move the ball, and they make those shots at the end of the shot clock, it takes a lot of energy from you doing that."

Spurs forward Diaw said, "We just wanted to get back to what the Spurs used to do during the whole season. That's what we felt that we did for the past couple of games.

"We're going to keep moving the ball the same way and put ourself in that position, that we can have easy shots, so that we can have high-percentage shots. And on defense we're going to try to do even better."